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New Zealand's innovation journey: Overcoming the obstacles

Antipodean Musings

Like some sort of yin and yang, New Zealand’s greatest strengths when it comes to innovation can also create the greatest obstacles. But can we turn the obstacles to our advantage?


Mark Bregman

New Zealand is celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes, and its people have embarked on an innovation odyssey that’s as unique as its geography. This journey – characterised by ingenuity, collaboration and strategic international engagement – positions the country distinctively on the global innovation map. 

Yet, the very strengths that define New Zealand's approach to innovation also present formidable challenges. How does a country renowned for its resourcefulness and resilience navigate the complexities of a rapidly evolving global innovation landscape? 

The answer lies in understanding the dual nature of New Zealand's innovation ecosystem. 

On one hand, the country's isolation has fostered a culture of self-reliance and ingenuity, often referred to as the ‘Kiwi can-do’ attitude. On the other, this isolation poses significant challenges in terms of access to larger markets and international collaboration. 

Further, New Zealand's emphasis on collaboration and strategic international engagement highlights a recognition of the limitations imposed by its size and resources. 

By juxtaposing these elements, we can appreciate the nuanced journey of New Zealand's innovation community – one that requires balancing celebrating local ingenuity with forging global partnerships. It's a journey about overcoming obstacles and leveraging them as catalysts for groundbreaking innovation.

Column author Mark Bregman

Harnessing Kiwi ingenuity

At the heart of New Zealand's innovation community thrives a spirit of resourcefulness and resilience that’s testament to the nation's unique approach to overcoming challenges. This spirit, often celebrated as Kiwi ingenuity, is a double-edged sword. 

This ‘double-edged-ness’ is epitomised by the ‘number eight wire’ mentality. On one hand the use of number eight wire to solve problems quickly and without outside help shows great ingenuity. On the other hand, it comes from a time when anything that was needed to accelerate the job came from across the sea and was expensive and slow to arrive. 

But in today’s globalised world, assuming this mentality can actually slow down innovation and detract resources from the most valuable problems to be solved.

Put another way, this spirit fosters a culture of creative problem-solving and adaptability, essential for navigating the complexities of the global innovation arena. Yet, this same spirit can sometimes veer towards a rugged self-reliance that inadvertently stifles collaboration and the willingness to seek assistance. 

How, then, can we balance this to harness the full potential of our innovative capabilities?

The answer lies in recognising and addressing what’s hindering progress. Viewing fellow Kiwis as competitors rather than collaborators in the global market is one factor that limits the scope of innovation and overlooks the strength in unity. Silos within the innovation community that can obstruct the flow of ideas and resources, essential for fostering a culture of cooperation, is another.

Confronting these challenges can cultivate an environment in which Kiwi ingenuity thrives and propels the nation towards greater heights of innovation. 

Scarcity as an innovation catalyst

In the face of New Zealand's limited resources and market size, how can innovators change the narrative and transform scarcity into a springboard for global success? 

One way is to adopt an abundance mindset, which encourages looking beyond immediate limitations to envision and pursue expansive possibilities. A departure from conventional thinking, it urges entrepreneurs to see the world as a place ripe with opportunities for groundbreaking solutions. 

Embracing this mindset allows innovators to leverage their inherent strengths – creativity, resilience and adaptability – to navigate and conquer foreign markets, guided by their vision and determination.

Scarcity can also serve as a catalyst for creativity and ingenuity, with history full of examples where limitations have led to revolutionary inventions and strategies. 

Having a global mindset

Global mindset in a local economy

It's imperative that innovators look beyond the horizon to integrate themselves in global networks. But while rooted in a local economy, how do they harness worldwide insights and collaborations? 

Cultivating a global mindset, which transcends geographical boundaries and cultural differences, can fuel growth and innovation.

This mindset encourages entrepreneurs to venture beyond familiar shores, seeking out partnerships and learning opportunities. By engaging with international counterparts, New Zealand's innovators can leverage diverse perspectives and expertise, turning the limitations of a smaller economy into a canvas for creativity and breakthroughs. 

Stories of those who have already successfully cultivated a global mindset serve to inspire others and are testament to the power of cross-border partnerships to overcome the challenges of innovating in a local economy. Those who embrace this global perspective can unlock new avenues for growth, ensuring they’re not confined by the borders of their island nation but propelled by the boundless potential of a connected world.

The balancing act

How, then, can New Zealand's innovation community maintain its revered self-reliance while embracing the indispensable benefits of strategic partnerships?

Kiwi entrepreneurs who, armed with ingenuity and a relentless drive, venture beyond the comfort of local shores to forge alliances that amplify their reach and impact, serve as examples. Their partnerships, ranging from collaborative research initiatives to cross-border investment ventures, serve as conduits for the exchange of ideas, technologies and market insights. Yet, the essence of New Zealand's innovation spirit remains rooted in their ability to navigate challenges with resourcefulness and adaptability.

By leveraging the scale of overseas innovation infrastructure, New Zealand's innovators can accelerate their projects, transforming local successes into global phenomena. This symbiotic relationship between self-reliance and strategic partnerships underscores a broader narrative: that the path to innovation is not solitary but a journey enriched by the diversity of global collaboration. 

How to balance self-reliance with strategic partnerships?

Navigating the path ahead

The innovation journey is as much about the destination as it is about the path taken. 

By fostering a culture of collaboration over competition and viewing limitations as opportunities, New Zealand can continue to carve out its niche on the global innovation stage. The stories of resilience, adaptability and strategic partnerships serve not only as a testament to what has been achieved but also as a beacon to guide the path ahead.

As New Zealand's innovation community moves forward, it must continue to embrace the road less travelled with the same zeal and determination that have marked its journey so far. 

In doing so, it will not only navigate the complexities of the innovation landscape but shape it, creating a legacy of impact and success that transcends geographical boundaries. 

The path ahead is fraught with challenges, but for a nation that has turned obstacles into opportunities, the future holds limitless potential.


Mark Bregman

Mark Bregman, based in Auckland, New Zealand, has spent more than 30 years focused on innovation. First as a scientist and later as a tech industry executive. After earning a PhD in experimental high energy physics, Mark joined IBM Research and built a career there before leaving to pursue his desire to be more entrepreneurial. After his New York-based start-up failed in the shadow of 9/11, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and held senior executive rolls in Veritas Software, Symantec, Neustar, Booxby (co-founder) and NetApp. He has been regularly travelling to New Zealand for almost 40 years and invested in a vineyard in Central Otago in 1999. In 2018, after leaving a role as CTO for NetApp, he decided to focus on working with early stage tech companies and choose to focus on New Zealand. Beyond his professional pursuits, Mark is an avid cyclist, foodie and wine lover.

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